Most experts on divided societies and institutional design broadly agree that it is more difficult to establish and maintain a stable, functioning democracy in a country with multiple languages and linguistically fragmented public spheres than in more homogeneous countries.
Multilingual countries such as Canada and Belgium have been experiencing considerable difficulties in past decades (see the almost successful 1995 referendum on sovereignty in Quebec or the institutional deadlock and the rise of Flemish nationalism in Belgium since the 1970s). The challenge of multilingualism has been on the rise in the United States, too, considering an ever-increasing number of Spanish speakers who are not fluent in English and the emergence of Spanish-only media in some parts of the country. The prospects for the EU to become a viable democracy are even more haunted by multilingualism, considering that it has 24 official languages and no lingua franca.
Switzerland, however, is also a multilingual country without a lingua franca, fragmented into 26 largely mono-lingual cantons and four linguistically distinct public spheres (German, French, Italian, Romansh). And yet it is widely seen as one of the most stable and successful democracies in the contemporary world. This book offers a different institutional explanation that accounts for the success of Swiss multilingual democracy. The author argues that in mainstream literature important Swiss institutions – in particular direct democracy, Parliament and the federal executive – have not been properly understood.
1. Introduction: Democracy in a Multilingual Country
Part I: The Idea of a Multilingual Nation
2. When is a Country Multinational?
3. The Acid Test? Competing Theses on the Nationality-Democracy Nexus and the Case of Switzerland
Part II: Centripetal Institutions: Direct Democracy and Electoral Systems
4. Centripetal Effects of Direct Democracy
5. Direct Democracy and Minorities
6. Do Multicultural Democracies Really Need Proportional Representation?
7. Does the Choice of Electoral System for Parliament Have an Impact on the Multi-Ethnic Composition of the Cabinet? Conceptual Issues in Light of the Swiss Example
8. Party, Regional and Linguistic Proportionality Under Majoritarian Rules: Swiss Federal Council Elections
Part III: Multilingual Democracies in Comparison
9. A Federal Electoral District for Belgium: An Appraisal with Three Amendments
10. Political Parties in Deeply Multilingual Polities (Belgium, Canada, Switzerland): Institutional Conditions and Lessons for the European Union
11. Conclusion: Switzerland, A Linguistic Consociation?